A Two-month Consulting ‘Deep Dive’ – McKinsey & Company – Bhavesh From IIM Bangalore
Back in 2010, during my undergraduate days, I got to know about this firm called McKinsey & Company. Some of the most inspiring seniors in my college had joined it. And as is the case with most of the curious sophomores, I researched everything under the sun; less about the seniors, more about the firm and before I could understand what management consulting was all about, I kind of got a good hold on McKinsey & Company.
Thus, the firm sowed a management consulting seed in my mind back then and by the time I got ready for the summer internship recruitment season at IIM Bangalore in 2015, it was an old tree with good amount of understanding of the complete process.
When you have so much of a build up for anything in life, things almost always go crazy on the final day. During my interview, I ended up developing a sports career plan for the interviewer’s son instead of solving the trivial case at hand. And while I was pacing up and down breathing heavily after the interview, cursing myself for the botch up, the person comes around, smiles mischievously, and says ‘Welcome to the Firm’.
Lesson #1 – It is okay for things to go crazy on Day 0 of summers. As I realized, your apparent ‘botch up’ can probably make you one of the most sought after candidates. Case solving is anyway being done by everyone out there in front of them.
Moving on, as I awaited the very first day of my internship with all my fancy plans, I got to know that I needed to go to US for the international finals of a competition I won in India a month back. And crazily enough it was coinciding with my joining and staffing dates.
‘So much build up for the internship and as expected, last moment craziness again’.
I consoled myself saying – life is about tradeoffs and I won’t compromise the much anticipated internship by any chance and hence would give this international opportunity a miss. Hoping against the hope, I (along with a friend) wrote a mail to the firm informing about the same and this is what I got as a response in less than 13 minutes –
I had fallen in love with the firm already!
Lesson #2 – When in doubt (and when it seems like the end of the world situation), speak to anyone in the firm. They are people like you who will understand the situation and help you NOT make a compromise.
So, I landed up the first day at work (completely jet-lagged) and got to know the details of the overall engagement and my work stream. McKinsey was doing an operations transformation for the client and I was given the responsibility of overlooking manufacturing and supply chain for a particular business. This eventually boiled down to improvement in metrics like throughput, yield, quality, lead time, OTIF (On Time in Full), inventory etc.
I sat and felt in command of the situation (despite the 37th hour running without sleep) because I had done this kind of work before in life. Feeling elated – I was like “what are the odds, really”! And it was then we had a team learning session with the Partner, wherein he asked all of us our ‘style of working’ and why are we here on this project. I thought why is he asking this to me – “my style of working? I am an intern, in a way there is only one way or the highway for me, plus I don’t know why am I here on this project, from what I knew it was randomly allocated to me.” And then the partner smiles and gives the following reply.
Lesson #3 – “Projects are not randomly allocated. I have chosen you for this workstream because of your background in operations at ITC and I feel you can lead the workstream. I want you to succeed. And that’s only possible if we stick to the working style you like. It can be anything. Let me know for instance, are you an early morning person or a late night person? Do you want your Friday evenings off for personal commitments?”
More love for the firm!
What followed next was an amazing internship experience on all fronts – work, people, learning, impact, fun, moments etc. As I reflect upon it, I feel that there is a genuine attempt at consulting firms to create an ecosystem around you to succeed. We had a big team of 15 people, with 8 on the ground and 7 others. All of them wanted me to step up on any opportunity and prove myself. They all wanted me to succeed. The three partners involved with the case made sure that they could sit with me one-on-one and understand if I was on the right track. All these things meant a lot to me. Half way through the internship, I got a flavor of a coming PPO. Of course the internship ended with much more work in the latter half and PPO results were officially communicated to me even later. The key point is that somewhere midway during the internship – I was ‘in the zone’ and I knew things were on perfect track. Thus, for your remaining attention span I’d focus on what to expect in these two months and finally a few pointers on things which are seldom talked about openly.
What to expect/learn/deliver during these two months?
Typically, a summer associate at a consulting firm works on a live engagement facing the client from day 1. There is no and absolutely no difference between the summer associate and the rest of the team in terms of responsibilities. There is inherent institutional support from everyone for everyone. For instance, I was answerable for all the potential savings within my workstream not only within the working team, but also in front of the partners, and even in front of the CEO of the client. So basically, I had to know from where and how I was claiming to save a 100 crores amount year on year for the client.
There are mainly two core skills a person needs during the internship. First is the ability to think like an ignorant but logically. And second is to leverage the resources of the consulting firm. There were experts in China who already knew solutions to the problems I was trying to solve for one complete day. Hence, it is important for you to leverage the huge pool of knowledge experts, clients, peers etc. for getting to the answer.
You do learn structured thinking and communication etc. But equally exciting is the fact that you learn an industry in and out. After a period of 2 months, you can very well give a talk on the sector and best practices for the same at any forum.
I think the biggest takeaway is the exposure someone gets while being a part of such an environment. When you brainstorm with partners and present to CEOs, there is a step up in the person’s confidence level. I remember the client MD making a comment for me – ‘you are equivalent to four people. I need such people in my company’. Such words indeed make your day (week, month or in fact your complete internship).
Fun & Luxury
It is important to realize that people in the team are just like you (maybe a year or two senior). Hence, they crave for parties, getaways and every moment to celebrate. We used to travel to Daman and chill out after a good productive day, have brunch in a fancy place in Mumbai. You get used to a certain kind of lifestyle. A rich lifestyle. Period.
Above pointers are what makes consulting such coveted roles on campus, indeed. Apart from that a few lessons which I learnt in those 2 months, which helped me along the way are elaborated further.
Lessons #4-10: Apart from the above (often discussed and quoted) themes, I found certain things which played an important role in my successful internship experience.
- Yes, there are two months. But to discount the importance of the initial impression is foolhardy. Hence, it becomes extremely important to be prepared to put in those extra hours during the initial few days and bring out things which gets you the credibility in the team.
As the days pass by, work gets stressful, if not for you maybe for your Engagement Manager. In such a situation, you need to come across as an individual on whom someone can bank upon. Thus, the work quality generated by you should not need corrections and further iterations. You need to own the work end to end – whether it be data collection, talking to clients, analysis, presentation.
- Informal networks
This is extremely helpful. You should know ‘who’ is the person who can get ‘what’ things done and ‘how’. During crisis times, you’d realize that this informal network comes to your rescue.
- Client love
In consulting, you’d realize that any work which you need to do is either done with clients, aligned with clients or more. As a result, you need to be top notch in terms of your relations with clients. First step towards that is to get their respect which comes when you showcase a good understanding of their business/operations. No one wants to listen to an unknown person unless he adds value in the first 15 minutes of the conversation. Thus, prepare well for your client meetings. Get that credibility. And eventually, build on that relationship. Life would be easy for your deliverables as well as your overall evaluation as a summer associate.
- Crisp Communication
This is something which is referred to as ‘top down’ communication in consulting parlance. Time is precious. Concentration span is less. As a result, speak only the relevant thing and follow it up with examples/explanations if a level 2 concern is raised. Follow this diligently in all your partner interactions whether it be workstream related or even a feedback session.
- Be a Sport
Now you’re in all probability the junior most in the team, and you are new, and work is hectic for everyone out there, hence be that punch bag for all the jokes thrown at you. This is one way you can build great relations with everyone in the team. Laugh it off and play along. Give yourself sufficient time and trust me you will indeed get the opportunity to turn the tables!
- Make them miss you
At the end of your two-month internship, feeling of missing each other has to be mutual. Make sure your value add on any frontier – work, fun, organizing things is missed by the team.
‘So what’ (in consulting parlance meaning the synthesis) of the article is –
It is not as fancy/difficult/big deal to have a successful internship in a top tier consulting firm. Remember, whoever is running the show over there was also a confused reader/writer like us back then.